Many authors try their hand at a variety of genres during the course of their writing careers; others specialise in one or two genres as they seek to perfect their craft. Like Robert Frost’s two diverging roads (in his well-known poem, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood), there are advantages and disadvantages to choosing either of these routes.
Diversity brings with it explorations, experimentations and a great deal of satisfaction. Some critics of this approach may say that when you diversify, you sacrifice quality, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Marks of specialisation, on the other hand, are crafting, perfecting and excelling at your chosen genre. Critics of this approach may say that if you specialise, you’re denying yourself some exciting opportunities, but as every good writer knows, there are challenges a-plenty with every single piece of writing you do.
Personally, in my four-decade stint as an author, I have enjoyed experimenting with many different genres. I started my career by writing supplementary readers for various age groups in primary schools – and what a lot of fun I had inventing those readers. Many of my early readers were included in reading programmes for various educational publishers (for example, MELTS and READERS ARE LEADERS for Macmillan, JAWS for Heinemann – now Pearson, and GEMS for Maskew Miller Longman). At the same time, wonderfully innovative South African publishers like Garamond (who published my Sing for Me and Colour Crazy) and Eulitz (Team Talk and Gom Gom Banana) were publishing high quality, expertly illustrated picture books. I learnt to love the power of the picture book: usually simple stories which, when appropriately illustrated, allowed my stories to lift off the page. How exciting it was to see the artists’ interpreting and transforming my stories into picture books which young readers could identify with and enjoy.
My supplementary reader and picture book phase was followed by a foray into writing educational material: Geography and English Language and Literature scripts for School’s Radio, and English Language text books for Nasou via Africa and Macmillan. A completely different set of skills was required for this type of book: Research with a capital ‘R’, sourcing appropriate, interesting material which was relevant to the curriculum, and meticulously following the often stringent requirements of that curriculum. Much of the time it involved very long hours and hard grind. Writing next books isn’t for the faint-hearted!
Then there was the memoir, where I poured my heart and soul into my writing as I re-lived the events and emotions associated with bereavement; the adult novels, the young adult fiction – both my Christian fantasy trilogy and my Christian YA novel, and many more (as yet unpublished) picture books.
But being a multi-genred writer involves constantly having to re-invent yourself. As I am finding picture books difficult to place at the moment, I have adapted many of my manuscripts for an anthology of short stories (YA fiction) – a stimulating adventure indeed – one that lends itself to its own blog…
But whether you go for multi-genres or specialisation, one thing is absolutely guaranteed: there’s never a dull moment when you’re writing, a profession which keeps you constantly on your toes as you seek to perfect your art and hopefully, to attract more readers.